But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.- 1 John 1:9
But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be made whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. – Isaiah 53:5
The Gospel of Easter is wonderful news indeed to Ragamuffins like you and me. For those who come on their knees before a Holy God, for those who know their lives will never measure up, who openly and gladly confess their failings, the Easter message is sublime liniment as we seek a Merciful God. For the others, those who prefer the option of making it on their own, who prefer to face God on their own merits, who deny the Cross of Christ is truly necessary, they can face the Justice of God. Every day we are on the streets telling of Jesus, we come across one of these. Who do you prefer to be today?
You see, there are two character traits in God, that make the cross at Easter essential. Justice and Mercy. Neither is compatible with the other, justice gives us what we deserve while mercy sets us free without punishment. How are they reconciled?
Few people, even Christians, ever consider that God demands justice, yet many will speak of his mercy. Do we understand the cost behind God’s mercy? While there are many illustrations to illuminate the point, let me use just one simple one. If I am in court for a crime, the magistrate can act either justly or mercifully. He cannot be both. The job of a magistrate though, is to administer justice, so imagine that I am found guilty and fined $100,000, which I cannot pay. Yet, my best friend is in court, and he takes out his cheque book and pays the fine on my behalf.
My record then reads: Michael, crime, theft; verdict, guilty; punishment, fined $100,000; paid in full. As far as a court is concerned, justice has been served, and mercy has been received, as a 3rd party stepped in to pay the fine.
It seems so obvious when it is laid out, why then do so many come to God based on his mercy alone, without any consideration of their need for justice? The key to God’s forgiveness is based first on his justice. We are not free from a sentence based on the Judge’s kindness, it is on the basis of justice. The Bible talks of us being justified, not mercified.
Being justified is not simply another term for being forgiven though – it goes much deeper than that. It means that the case against us is closed, never to be reopened. In the days of capital punishment, when a person was executed for their crime a simple note was pinned outside of the prison and it said this, ‘At this place on this date, Michael was justified.’ Justice has been satisfied, the case is now closed, the crime can never be resurrected.
While mercy and the love of God lie behind the cross, if there was no justice we could be tried again and again for the same crime. But, and here is the wonderful truth of all of this, when God justifies us, he forgives us once for always and the case is closed. No more wondering about whether I am forgiven or not.
Why then the cross? Quite simply, Jesus has absorbed our punishment from God, and we are justified because of him, and him alone. That sentence is worth pondering some more. We talk to enough people out in the world who are racked with guilt because of what they feel they have done in the past. One man we talked to on a seat next to the beach couldn’t fathom this, in spite of (or perhaps because of) a lifetime in church. He still talked as though it was all dependent on him. We seem unable to accept it.
For many, the fact that our justification lies in the hands of another, not with ourselves presents a problem. We tell ourselves that somehow we should be good enough, that we must measure up; we have met many who have walked away empty handed from the greatest offer ever made, because they will not accept what Jesus had to do on their behalf.
Every other religion on the planet teaches of our having to reach God through our own efforts, only Christ at Easter tells us that God has already done what we could not; all we need do is receive it and we are free. Why is it so hard? Archbishop Temple once wrote that the only thing we contribute to our salvation, is the sin we commit before God.
In the verse from Isaiah above, it tells us that peace is ours, healing is ours when we can accept what has been done. We must make it our mission this Easter to understand and experience what that means.
God is merciful yes, but it is what Christ did for us that justifies us before God. This Easter, it is a reminder to us that the case against us is closed, complete.
Jesus, the very centre of all that God planned has done the work. Will you walk free?